December 1st, 2011
“Are you ready for Christmas?”
What the hell does that mean?
What a season. Sure, we sing Christmas tunes. And things sparkle. For the religious, there’s the whole Jesus thing, which is probably satisfying.
But. Over twenty years in a health care practice, I saw this as a season of huge stress.
The Joy bar, if you can imagine one, is raised. You’re supposed to feel jolly, bursting with good will, eager to be with your loved ones (even the drunken aunts and the bigoted, pedophiliac, shoplifting, arsonist, B&E in-laws), and, most of all, willing to shop for all of the above. There’s nothing like an elevated expectation of joy to make you feel less joyous, to make you feel like a Scrooge-y underachiever in the realm of happiness.
Families get together, which is wonderful and not. Combined families do the absurd and hugely complicated Cirque du Soleil thing in order to be at all twelve turkey dinners around the country, stuffed to the resentful, guilty wishbone by the end of it all.
People spend themselves into debt that amounts to carrying a fat, loaded sleigh for the rest of the winter.
I drive by the mall, stare at four bizillion cars in the parking lot, and head to the library instead. I’ve done this twice in the last week. I’ll be well read, if not “ready” at all, by Christmas.
So what does it mean to be “ready” for Christmas?
Here’s my checklist:
1. Am I listening to my own values? (Do I even know what my values are?)
2. Am I doing what makes me happiest or am I just doing my best not to offend my mother, my father, my lover, my husband (same thing in some cases, but not for everybody this Christmas – talk about Cirque du Soleil stress), my kids, my in-laws, the guy who delivers the mail, every starving kid in Africa who will die because i just wasted $20 on a hat that no one will wear, the clerk who has asked me 600 times to donate an extra dollar to a cause I have no interest in?
3. Am I allowing my kids and lovely man to make their own decisions about what makes them happy (or am I pressuring the hell out of them to do what I want)?
4. Am I finding time every day to remember who I am? To breathe and be sane? To remember that Love is the Point?
Ahhhhh, that’s it.
The moment I remember that Love is the Point, I’m ready.
Are you ready? What’s the point for you? And is it easy for you to remember your own point this season? I’d love to hear.
Thanks for the conversation,
September 15th, 2011
I had dinner with some politicians on
Friday. It was more fun than it sounds.
I am so unpolitical that when a man
came over to our table to shake my hand and say he’d heard me speak
before, I smiled blankly and said, ‘hehehehhe” or something
equally charming and profound. I asked, afterward, who he was. Turns
out he’s our mayor.
I was giving a keynote talk to
celebrate a wonderful organization that offers literacy training to
anyone who wants it. All kinds of politicians attended, some of whom
are engaged in an election campaign right now.
One of them had his Blackberry going
all through dinner. I asked him whether he ever takes a day off. “I
can’t afford to at this point,” he said. I asked about a typical
campaigning day and he reviewed the day he’d just had: something
like 12 events, many of them involving cutting cakes, wearing party hats, and making
I asked how he maintains his physical energy during these campaigns. He mentioned
several things. He rarely eat the cake at the events. He keeps all kinds of clothes in their car, changing five or six times
each day to suit the events and in order to feel fresh.
And three times a week he visits his
personal trainer at a gym. He’s convinced this increases his
I wanted to weep for him. First,
because I’d go mad, having to shake thousands of hands, remember
hundreds of names, and incur the wrath of the unhappy while smiling for the cake-makers. I’d be in a heap in the back seat of my car,
doing a month-long Savasana.
That was the other thing that made me
want to weep.
I’m all for gyms, and trainers, and
elliptical machines. But hearing very busy people talk about their
very busy lives makes me wish I were an even better ambassador for
Because these people need Savasana,
don’t they? And a daily practice that looks inward, that teaches
them they’re beautiful, a regular hour or two that plunks them in a
quiet room full of peaceful, generous, smiling yogis.
I asked whether he’d tried yoga. No
time at this point, he said.
I believe I have affected friends and
family (about my enthusiasm, my sister always says, thank god it
isn’t heroin you’re into, or we’d all be doing it), but I’m
no good with strangers.
It made me wonder whether any of you
have developed a kind of sound bite, some wonderful description of
yoga that you use to invite people like this to yoga class. I’d
love to hear it.
And they could use it.
Many thanks to our politicians for
caring enough to put in these enormous cake days. Thanks to the party-hat guy pictured above at the Kensington Market. Thanks to yoga for
being so wonderful that we’d love to pass it along.
Thanks to you, always, for the
September 13th, 2011
Things that make me laugh:
The way we all think our form of
yoga is the best yoga ever. I am the worst culprit that ever lived.
The way I’m afraid to go back to
an old class, try a new class, go to a friend’s class, have a new
teacher show up in my class. For god’s sake, I’m anxious when I
try a new DVD.
The way a small part of me
fantasizes that the right mat or the right yoga pants might improve
my Handstand/Headstand/Crow/Forward Lunge/Camel. No luck so far.
The inside voice that says, “I
can’t do it, I can’t do it.” That voice has no imagination.
She’s a one-liner. At least I’m laughing at her now.
The way a yoga practice takes
60-90 minutes, but yoga thinking, wondering, and dreaming consumes
about 50 percent of my head space some days.
The way I can’t wait to practice
and then can’t wait for each pose to end sometimes. Make up your
The way I feel. Honestly, I feel
fantastic these days, so fantastic that it makes me laugh.
I’d love to hear your yoga laughs.
Thanks to yoga for the humor. Thanks to my brother Adam, a yogi with a flexible face. Thanks to
you for the conversation,
August 25th, 2011
This morning I’m dreaming about a fantasy yoga class. Here’s what mine looks like:
First, it’s Kundalini yoga. I’m
smitten. What can I say.
The class includes the following
Khalsa, the great whirling dervish Kundalini yogini. (She can teach
My grandfather. He’s been gone for 25 years, but he taught me to
stand on my head when he was 65, so my guess is he’d love to be
Patanjali, the guy who wrote the Yoga Sutra. I’d love to ask him
what he thinks
about modern yoga.
Sting. He can lead the chanting.
All right, his wife Trudie Styler can come. She’s a pretty
fabulous yogini, too.
getting nervous about having too many yoga gods in the class, so next
Javier Bardem, the best actor in the world. When I Google Javier and
yoga, the only thing that comes up is my own infatuation with him, so
my guess is he is not a yogin, at least in public. His presence would,
of course, challenge my sustained focus on my own practice. This, I
figure, would be awful and wonderful at the same time.
My kids. They are spread all over Canada and I miss them.
My lovely man, provided he’s all right with Javier Bardem. I want
this class to be harmonious.
it. That’s my fantasy class.
in yours? I’d love to hear.
to yoga for feeding my imagination. Thanks to you for the
August 18th, 2011
Sometime during the last hour, I touched my heels in Camel Pose. First time ever. There should be fireworks going off somewhere. This is absolutely one of the finest moments of the summer for me.
August 16th, 2011
I paddled flat water kayak and war canoe competitively when I was young. It involved training two or three times each day during the summer, and strength training all winter. What I remember about our summer workouts was one minute of flinging, twisting, jerking upper-body movement that we called stretching, followed by a 10-minute run, after which we’d jump in our boats and work hard while a coach yelled at us to work hard. We raced every weekend. I still dream about the bang of the gun at the starting line.
August 11th, 2011
Yoga’s come a long way, baby.
When my mother took yoga classes 40 years ago, she
was weird. She was dabbling in something cultish, Eastern (as if that
didn’t say it all), nutty-seedy vegetarian and bound to zip down a
slippery, chanting slope to moral corruption. Yoga ranked right up
there in weirdness with her backyard compost pile. Now we call a
compost pile. Then, my mother was the woman who dumped leftovers on
the back lawn.
She also meditated. I was with her at a
Transcendental Meditation workshop when I was six or seven. All I
remember is lying on a gymnasium floor with too many strangers, trying
not to laugh while being told to relax.
Here’s the thing. The physical practice of yoga is no
longer weird. Half of Hollywood does it, which is enough to make the
rest of us feel mainstream while standing on our heads. Yoga clothes
are now accepted enough to wear to work, to lunch, to sleep. (I
remember moving to a small town in Northern Ontario in 1989 and
wearing running tights into a corner store. Before I arrived home,
rumor had spread that the new chiropractor in town was out shopping
in long underwear.) Men now do yoga, which would have freaked even my
mother out 40 years ago. Kids do yoga in schools. Not in huge
numbers, yet, but it’s happening.
Yoga is in. It’s fun. It’s here.
I hope, hope, hope, that the meditation part of yoga is
making its way to great numbers of us along a similar course.
Meditation, though not as weird as it
was (what the heck, you just sit there, doing nothing?) has
only recently begun an accelerated spread into schools, prisons, hospitals,and evening
classes in gymnasiums. David Lynch is the only Hollywood name that
comes to mind.
I’m surprised that people still
arrive at my Facebook site, where we talk a lot about meditation, asking, “How to do I begin?” I forget that meditation isn’t as automatic a
practice for most of us as our asana practice.
If you haven’t already included it as
a part of your practice, you’re in for a good time. Meditation is gorgeous beyond description.
David Nichtern is fun. He’s a teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. Here is his take on
how you can begin to include meditation in your life.
I hope it becomes a part of your trip
if you’re ready for it. I hope it carries you down a slippery slope
to your true nature.
Let me know how it goes.
Thanks to the yoga tree for having more
than one branch. Thanks to you for the conversation,
August 4th, 2011
If I were writing my own version of the
Yoga Sutra (a 2,000-year old guide for the practice of
yoga), I would include this bit of wisdom:
In your practice, some asanas will
elicit such panicky resistance from your body and/or spirit that
they’ll make you want to throw up. Do not despair, young yogi,
because this urge to throw up is teaching you many things.
First, it’ll teach you about your own
wonderful instincts. Sometimes the urge to throw up means, “This
one is not for you. It is not yet time to stand on your head while in full lotus.”
You’ll learn what this particular nausea feels like. This nausea
feels like a big red X.
The more common nausea feels like a big
red Uh Oh. It may be difficult at first to differentiate these, but
you will learn. The Uh Oh nausea means, “Whoa, Nellie, you have a
lot to learn from this pose. Come a wee bit closer. Perhaps this one has to do with the fact
that you hate confrontation, or you feel powerless in your life, or
you have unfortunately led your entire life with your pea brain
rather than your enormous heart.”
These urges to throw up and run away
screaming should be in the Sutra.
I used to feel the Uh Oh with Butterfly
Pose. It’s easing, now. I still feel it with all forward lunges.
With back bends, I’m not close enough to feel it, but I’ll bet
When I hit one of these pukey edges, I
use a homemade mantra, which is, “I am completely safe.” (Not
that I have any underlying issues of my own, you understand.)
Have you met these urges to throw up?
If not, achhhh, you’re just more evolved than I am. Lucky for you.
You should write your own Yoga Sutra. We could use your wisdom.
If you have felt the big red X or the
Uh Oh, I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks to yoga for shining a light on
my resistance. Thanks to the spiky flower photographer. Thanks to you, always, for the conversation,
July 26th, 2011
Following twice daily practices outside this weekend and last (blame the Kundalini fever), I have a few more observations on the differences between indoor and outdoor practice.
July 21st, 2011
During summer, my practice moves
outside two or three days every week. My lovely man and I spend long
weekends at our cabin on an island in Northern Ontario.
This means that my practice is either
free-form or follows a DVD (until my laptop runs out of steam).
Al fresco yoga is different, even if
the asanas themselves are identical.
Here’s what I notice:
Centering myself before I begin is
completely different. Rather than shutting the world out and going
inward, I breathe myself into my environment. I feel like one of the
trees or the clouds. Great feeling.
Life goes on around me. Rosie dog
presses her bum into my head whenever I am close enough to her
height. She also works diligently to occupy any and all free space
on my mat. My lovely man forgets I’m doing yoga and offers
breakfast, weather reports, and book summaries through the kitchen
window. These things would drive me mad at home. During cabin
practice, they’re as lovely as chirping birds and the sound of waves.
Breath becomes more important as a
kind of anchor when there are fewer fixed points to stare at. The
cloud ceiling moves, the trees wave, water slurps on the shore. Steadiness comes from my inhalations and exhalations.
I’m clearer about the purpose of
yoga being pleasure. It’s easy indoors for me to drift toward
pushing my yoga. Do more, go further, push harder. Blech. Outside,
everything is clearer. Happier. Lighter. Good for this little soul.
Are you an outdoor
yog(in)i? What have you noticed during your outdoor practice?
Thanks to yoga for
being so portable. Thanks to you for the conversation,